2 February celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and we can read all about it in Luke 2:22-40. In the church calendar it’s known as Candlemas.
Mary and Joseph went to the Temple to make an offering in Thanksgiving to God in recognition that their child was a gift from God. It’s a lovely family event in the life of Jesus: we’ve got a baby; parents; a man of faith; and a prayerful widow, who could, almost, act as provisional grandparents!
The Law required a Lamb and a pigeon to be offered, however, if parents couldn’t afford a Lamb then an extra Pigeon would be accepted and it was a pair of pigeons which were brought to the Temple (2:24); and it’s for this reason we know Mary and Joseph weren’t well-off when it came to money. Simeon and Anna tell Mary and Joseph about what he would become and the impact he would have in his lifetime – and beyond. There are five important lessons that we can learn from these two godly old saints:
1) The Importance of Patience
It seems to me that Simeon and Anna were patient people – they had been waiting for most of their lives.’ Simeon had been waiting for the consolation of Israel and he’d been told by God that he wouldn’t die until he’d seen it for himself – the Bible doesn’t tell us how old Simeon was, tradition says he was 113. Anna had been waiting for what she calls the redemption of Israel but we do know that Anna lived to be 84 years old.
But to understand something of their patience, we need to go back 450 years in Jewish history to the last time God spoke to his people through the prophet Malachi: it was then that God promised that he would come personally into the world and bring about salvation in the form of the Messiah. And for 450 years nothing had happened but Simeon and Anna had confidence/patience in God’s promises and they, like many others, were waiting for that promise to be fulfilled.
Can you imagine the excitement in Simeon’s soul when he heard that after all those years of silence, he would actually witness this great coming? You can imagine Simeon scanning every child that came into the Temple courts: asking: “Lord, is this the one?” “Is that the one?” “What about him over there?” And Anna was patient, too. She’d been attending the temple for 84 years. Can you imagine being that patient? I tend to get impatient after 84 seconds. But 84 years!
2) The Importance of Praise
Now if you can imagine that scene in the busy temple courts that day, you would have seen a picture of pure happiness. Two elderly people hunched round a baby and his parents. All filled with joy and delight that, after all this time, the promises of God are being fulfilled. At last, the waiting is over. At last, Simeon can go to his grave a contended man. At last, the hope of salvation has dawned.
And what a moment this must have been as Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms and, as Simeon holds the baby Jesus, he speaks those famous words of praise and thanks to God (words known in Latin as the ‘Nunc Dimitis’), vs29- 32: Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
3) The Importance of Prophecy
But just at the point when Simeon blesses Jesus, Simeon prophesies to Mary, vs34: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.
Is this really the moment for such a comment? Everyone’s cooing around the baby, and then Simeon drops this into the conversation. Can you imagine anything so tactless and out of place? So why does Simeon ruin the moment?
Well, there’s no doubt that Simeon knew the teaching about the Messiah and he wasn’t going to keep this ‘longing of a lifetime’ to himself and so: he prophesies, he speaks God’s truth: that Jesus will raise up those who believe in him but will be a stumbling block for those who disbelieve; in short, he prophesies that Jesus is going to divide opinion.
Simeon also prophesies that through Jesus the whole of the non-Jewish world would get to know about God’s salvation; Simeon also prophesies that his death would be a cause of great sorrow to Mary, too. Anna would also have read the prophecies, and she, with Simeon, was also looking forward to the coming Messiah who would bring salvation to the world.
4) The Importance of Prayer
This story tells us that our relationship with God is built up through praise and prayer. And in our reading we heard that Anna never left the Temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying (2:37). Overwhelmed, perhaps, with grief on the loss of her husband, Anna dedicated herself to serving God in the temple – finding a renewed sense of purpose for her life in the process. Both Simeon and Anna listened to the still small voice of God and they responded to His leading in their praise and prayer.
5) The Importance of Purpose
Anna, and Simeon, knew what it was to find purpose for their lives through their worship of God. It brought meaning and hope in their life-long quest to meet the Messiah themselves.
From the example of Simeon and Anna, we recognise the importance of being Patient when it comes to God’s promises; the importance of (daily) Praise and Prayer as we deepen our relationship with him; the importance of being open to God speaking words of Prophecy and truth into our hearts, through the words of others; the importance of trusting in his Purpose for our lives.
It seems to me that it’s because of these things that Simeon and Anna found themselves to be exactly where they needed to be in order to see the Messiah with their own eyes. Coincidence or God-incidence? You choose!
Almighty and ever-living God,
clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple,
in substance of our flesh:
grant that we may be presented to you
with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.